Myanmar must respect human rights as chairman of ASEAN

By – Zin Linn

The year 2013 has just accomplished its duty in Myanmar, but it leaves ongoing war upon ethnic population launched by government army produces more and more internal displaced people plus refugees from various Shan villages.

Additionally, this war forces ethnic people to flee from the country. These war-victims escaped into neighboring countries as political exiles, illegal migrants and refugees.

So, people have to make questions that why government’s armed forces do not stop fighting along ethnic border areas. Without stopping war in ethnic areas, how can the President convince the people from the border areas of his government’s goodwill efforts for peace and stability and growth?

While number of hostilities considerably decreased in many ceasefire regions, armed clashes in war-torn Kachin and Shan state are still unstoppable. Those hostilities in Kachin and Shan states have increased IDPs numbers along Sino-Myanmar border. As a result of more armed clashes between government’s forces and the Kachin Independence Army and communal violence in Rakhine state produce 140,000 internal displaced people.

Up till now, Myanmar government and ethnic armed organizations fail to reach a nationwide ceasefire agreement although they had maintained ceasefire talks in Myitkyina on Nov 4-5, 2013. Many hoped there would be a breakthrough via the meeting but it didn’t take place. There are still many differences between Myanmar government and ethnic armed organizations, especially on founding of a federal union and a federal armed forces submitted by ethnic armed organizations while Myanmar government suggested ethnic armed groups to abandon arms and take part in politics.

However, there was no breakthrough result from Myitkyina summit but both parties agreed to continue additional ceasefire talks. The next of talks of the United Nationalities Federation Council (UNFC), an alliance of Burma’s armed ethnic groups, won’t take place until upcoming January. Originally the meeting was supposed to go on in December in the Karen National Union (KNU) controlled area.

Again, representatives from Myanmar government and ethnic armed groups will meet in an inner location in Karen state, in January 2014 after Nationwide Ceasefire Coordination Team (NCCT), which formed during Laiza summit, meeting in KNU’s control area. Although there are still differences, situation seems to be improved because both parties have submitted their proposals each other. Many issues stay behind to be discussed as ethnic armed organizations prefer getting political settlement before nationwide ceasefire signing. Ethnic leaders said most points in both proposals are agreeable although some points need to make bargain.

However, the establishing of federal army issue will be a stalemate.

Constitutional amendment issue is beyond doubt a key question in Myanmar’s political reforms. The 2008 constitution seems to be a federal constitution; however, the union parliament has more political power than the state parliaments. Political parties have highlighted undemocratic articles in the 2008 constitution, especially about military’s unelected 25% seats in all parliaments.

Myanmar parliament has already established a joint constitutional review committee to assess the constitution. Establishing a federal union and a federal army depend on the imminent constitutional progression. If Myanmar army agrees amendment of the constitution, political parties and ethnic armed groups will satisfy and make way for peace in the country.

When looking at international relation in 2013, Norway, Sweden, and EU have supported financial and technical supports for restoring peace in the country. Moreover, American and British governments have closely watched the political development in the country and are interested in to work with Myanmar army to respect human rights. The Japanese government also delivered financial and technical support to the government.

In the investment sector, China is still at the top among foreign investors in Myanmar. In recent years, Japanese transnational companies have regularly increased its investment in the newly open-up country.

Japanese companies have started Thilawa deep seaport construction and taking into consideration to invest in Dawei SEZ.

Regarding development, President U Thein Sein delivered an address at the opening ceremony of National Level Workshop on “Rural Development and Poverty Alleviation’ at Myanmar International Convention Centre in Nay Pyi Taw ON 20 May 2013, according to the state-run newspapers.

In his address, U Thein Sein said, “The world is facing many challenges such as financial crisis, climate change, food security and rise in demand for energy. For Myanmar, an agro-based country, development of the agricultural and livestock breeding sector of rural areas, climate change, food security, higher incomes of rural people and poverty alleviation are the issues we have to address with all seriousness.”

He additionally said that the respective authorities need to hold talks with economic experts, organizations and departments to find out how to deal with such demanding task and what programmes have to lay down.

He also encouraged establishing cooperative system. But the system did not win public trust in Myanmar because in the past, people were forced to participate in activities and corruption was out of control. Learning lessons from those events, citizens should support formation of cooperative societies with likeminded people, he said.

Burma remains one of the world’s least developed countries, and was ranked 138 out of 182 countries in the 2010 UN’s Human Development Index. Burma is regularly along with the most corrupt countries in the world by Transparency International’s annual Corruption Perceptions Index — in 2009, Burma was ranked third from the bottom after Afghanistan and Somalia.

Burma (Myanmar) is one of Asia’s poorest countries, reflected in its health indicators. It had the 44th highest infant mortality rate of the 193 countries listed by the UNICEF in its 2011 State of the World’s Children report.

Myanmar has no check and balance system since the defense sector regularly takes the lion share of the annual budget. If the government really wants to lift the people’s social standard or trim down poverty, it must trim down its defense spending first. Without external threats, the country should not pay out too much for the military. As a result, the economy has plummeted and unemployment rate goes up. At the same time, the hyper-inflation burst out as corruption takes place as a key player.

To most citizens, ‘Poverty Alleviation’ should start fighting against the corruption or the practice of bribery. And it is also necessary to trim down the defense spending.

In year 2014, Myanmar has to take the chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Member-Countries in the ASEAN region ought to convince the Government of Myanmar to take necessary measures for the improvement of its issue of economic disproportion and human rights situation related to the illegitimate land grabbing. The UN should also consider establishing a Commission of Inquiry into the illegitimate land confiscation business in Myanmar that caused not only armed conflict but also produced several thousands of landless farmers, refugees and internal displaced population.

Becoming chairman of the ASEAN, government should think about the suffering of its people as main concern. Millions of ethnic people have been expelled from their homes to make way for development projects such as hydro-power dams, reservoirs and sea ports. However construction and engineering companies close to the government enjoy profits from those projects, without respecting human rights and existing laws of the nation.